2.10.2006

Mississippi State Secrets

I watched this special on the History Channel for two reasons.

1) I have been feenin' for the stereotypical negro specials in honor of Black History Month. I don't care if that's the only reason they're doing it. I'm just glad they're doing it. Black history could be ignored like it has been for so many years. And can we really be upset about that when our own widely known television station, the incomparable BET can't be bothered to provide more than a few 30-second spots? I think not.

and 2) because my mother is from Mississippi. Let me take you back into my history a little bit. My great grandfather, John Dixon was born in slavery. He told some of his children he was born to a white mother and slave father. The rest he told he was born to a slave mother and white father. Either way, he was half-white. He had blue eyes and fair skin, and could have easily passed for white. But he didn't. His children ran the gamut from very fair, to inheriting their mother's dark skin. Some, light and dark, had blue eyes, some had eyes that changed colors from blue to brown (my grandmother), some had brown eyes, while others had brown eyes with a blue halo. (I think there were 12 of them). But they were all black. And many, as far as I can gather, grew up hating white people.

My grandmother still does. She will not hesitate to call someone a honky. She looks upon white people with disdain. My mother has mixed feelings. She's definitely had white friends, but she grew up in Mississippi in the 1950s and 60s. My grandmother's house in Jackson is less than 5 minutes away from the house where Medgar Evers was shot. All Medgar Evers was trying to do was register people to vote. That's it. Give Black people the inalienable rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States of America.

Several days ago on someone's blog, I asked if children are even made to watch "Eyes on the Prize" anymore. I know I was as a child, but I have a feeling these videos are viewed as outdated and irrelevant. Our history will never be irrelevant. As long as Black people are marginalized in any way, as long as the Revolutionary War, the Boston Tea Party, the Constitution, and the Civil War are all worthy of being taught, so is the struggle for CIVIL rights. One of the professors at Hampton is Earl Caldwell. He was the only reporter present when Dr. King was shot. He also followed the Black Panther Party extensively. His case, Caldwell v. the United States is the foundation of shield laws in which journalists do not have to reveal their sources.

My senior year, I decided to create a documentary on his life. I interviewed him for more than an hour, with the help of three of my classmates. Then I used footage from "Eyes on the Prize" for examples of what he was talking about. In seeing these videos again, I began to re-learn my history. And in many cases, learn for the first time. There was nothing civil about the struggle for our rights. In "Eyes on the Prize," "Mississippi State Secrets," and a myriad of other specials, we get the opportunity to see once again how hard our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents had to fight for what they deserved.

To not have to say "yessir" and "no sir" to a white person young enough to be their grandchild, and be called boy or mammy by the same person. To have the right to vote. To have the right to elect people who would fight for civil rights in office. To have the right to keep members of the KKK out of power. To attend schools that could prepare them for greatness. To be paid equally and fairly for their work. To hold office, national and otherwise. To one day own multi-billion dollar companies. To become CEO's and CFO's in mainstream companies. To produce television shows and films. To play something other than a mammy or a maid in those same productions. To win Grammy's and Oscar's and Emmy's. To impact the world. The things many of us take for granted. And its up to us to preserve it.

Mississippi State Secrets reminded me of what my family has gone through, and the reasons why it is hard for many of them to accept white people. For so long, that acceptance could have taken their self-respect, their pride, and their lives. One of my great-uncles was accused of looking at a white woman. (It didn't only happen to Emmett Till). My uncle had to shoot off his foot and jump in a lake to convince his would-be murderers he was crazy. His life was spared in one respect, but he spent several decades in an asylum as a result.

Mississippi's State Sovereign Committee kept files on civil rights activists. Many of its members were also members of the KKK. Sovereign Committe files directly and indirectly led to deaths, firebombings, and burnings of homes and churches. In the 1970s, there was a bill to destroy these files. Then governor, William Winter, had the foresight to veto the measure. He says, yes we have an ugly history, but we can't destroy it. I'm glad he did.

Oprah Winfrey (also from Mississippi) feels the word "nigger" should be taken out of the dictionary. My mother disagrees. And for the same reason the former governor of Mississippi did not want to destroy Sovereign Committe files. If we bury our history, no matter how ugly, we will begin to forget it. We can never forget what our ancestors had to fight for. And the injustices many people still face today, a biased justice system, driving while black, being ignored in stores.

So watch the programming, despite its almost trite appearance. Our ancestors fought for us to have it. And although our history is being recognized in February by the mainstream, as D. Sands says, "Black consciousness doesn't have a month." It's up to us to fight for our voices to be heard, and the rights of the poor and Black who have not had our achievements, regardless of the time of year.

28 comments:

Stacie von Kutieboots said...

My freshman year in highschool, our IB Inquiry Skills teacher Dr. Potente had us watch "Eye on the Prize" This little italian woman spent a unit on the movie; its reasons and ramifications. This was in September and I will always respect her for that.
FYI a unit is a gigantic lesson plan that spans at least 4 weeks.

It hurts that we can't get that out of our "own" channel. I think I saw Tigger blurp something about athletes...athletes. Can't be a bomb athlete if you ain't a nigga!VH1 does a better job when its not even black history month!

jameil1922 said...

ain't that the truth. i've seen some of the most in depth attacks on our issues and struggles for equality on vh1. disgusting. tigger did a lot more good over on rap city than he will ever do on 106 & Park.

Mrs A. said...

great post! i'll reserve all comments for later, but i feel grandma on the disdain, b/c in high school (not that long ago) there were boy and girl groups that were like jr. KKK and they did not hide it. i pretty much grew up in TN so i am used to the madness..maybe that's why i chose to study history. there is so much to uncover, so much to learn...

Ladynay said...

Wonderful post!

I had a high school flashback when you mentioned "Eyes on the Prize" My History teacher had us watch the whole series! I ain't gonna fake, I slept through half of it....

Keep your eeeeeeeeeeeeyes on the priiiiiiiiiize ohhhh Lord, oooh Lord.....

Karamale said...

amen to the final quote and this post.

"N" Search of Ecstasy said...

This was a good post! I love learning about our history. It amazes me some of the stories I hear from my dad and especially the ones that my great grandmother used to tell me.

Can’t even get this type of history on BET. They are suck a fucking joke!

CNEL said...

Amen, it's so important for us to learn the his-stories, and the her-stories which help to define who we are today. While it may seem trivial at times, without the fights, without the sacrifices, we would not have the benefits we have today. Our lives have been made much easier by the sacrifices of generations of others. It's our job to learn about what has happened, to recognize its relavence to our lives, and help those who come after us to see its relavence in their lives.

-CNEL

Unfortunately I've never seen the entire "Eyes on the Prize" series, or the entirety of "Roots". I feel somewhat deprived, but I am committed to learning and honoring our history, our present, and the possibilities inherent in the future.

jameil1922 said...

n... girl please don't get me started on bet again. i'm so back and forth. it just don't make no sense. i want to fix em but they just make me so madDDDDDDDDDDD!!! geez! i've already done two posts on the nonsense that is buffoon ent. telly but i just know they'll do something else nonsensical to provoke another. i just know it. i feel it in my little bones.

ey man. why y'all ain't let a sista know y'all be playin music on the joint? i'm just sayin. i never have the sound up on my computer. i think i been missing some good ish. this damn miss a who needs to come on w/the comments got the erykah playing!! yesssssssss!! ummmmmm!! love it. didntcha know???????

ladynay you're on punishment until you go see that!!

cnel! geez?! what kinda craziness??? wtf?? i'm appalled. i need you to go to your university library and check both of those out. i'm sure they have it. i know hampton is a black school and all, but loyola should have those on video, too. i'm just sayin can i get up w/the dvd plz?? "queen" is good, too. i've never seen "x" but i read the autobiography of malcolm x. must read. for real. go pick it up.

So...Wise...Sista said...

Great post!...I tell you, as absurd as BET and the idea of "Black History: The 28 (or 29) Day Breakdown", are, we really do NEED opportunities to reflect and teach. Cuz schools sure ain't doing it otherwise. Hoses and pit bull attacks werent THAT damn long ago...certainly not long enough for there to be generations that take it for granted...or God forbid don't even know about it. Ya know how when you have a bad day it always feels good to go shopping? I think that's what black folks been doing ever since we got a lil change...in society and in the pocket books. lol Shopping away a whole lot of history, perspective and common sense. :(

jameil1922 said...

"Shopping away a whole lot of history, perspective and common sense" DAMN Y'ALL. read that again!!! i think that may be too deep for me. sista really is wise. she wasn't bullshittin. whoa. shopping away a whole lot of history perspective and common sense. come back wise one. drop some mo knowledge. i need that one quantified.

jameil1922 said...

dammmmmmmmmmmmmmmmn!! i'm sorry. i'm still stuck on how deep that was. damn. ok i'm gon sit here and try to be patient until you have time to come back. but hurry up!!

jameil1922 said...

i feel like a baptist preacher. or better yet a pentecostal preacher. "YESSSSSSSS WISE SISTAHH! TAKE US BACK!! TAKE US TO THE WAAATAAAAAHH!!!" lolol. did i just do three successive comments to one comment on my own post?

Epsilonicus said...

My godmother use to every Sunday Black movie day. I would see 2 Roots movie a week. I watched a whole lot of movies about Black history and Black actors. Just looking at how Black actors have been able to diversify their roles in Hollywood has made me more curious about Black history in general.

Do you know when this special is coming on again???

The Princess said...

Okay, I don't say this to a lot of my white associates b/c some of them are hella cool and yet probably wouldn't understand it. But I will NOT say ma'am or sir except to white people unless they are REALLY old and I feel they have shown a great deal of deserving it. Like my driver's ed teacher in high school. He was my mother's driver's ed teacher and mine and was good friends with my g'ma. So I respected him. But old Blacks and Hispanics get it from automatically. It's something I didn't even realize I was doing until I heard a coworker who was older than me saying it to our boss who was younger than her, (but older than me). I asked her why she did that because it sound sooo "yessuh massa" the way she said it and she told me that she felt since the woman was her boss it was automatic. It bugged me to no end to see this woman old enough to be my grandmother saying "yes ma'am ms. leslie" to this woman. Her last name was not Leslie by the way. It was so sad.

Okay had to share that! :)

jameil1922 said...

ep... check the history channel website. i don't know that it is coming on again.

princess... i feel the same way. i just can't help it. i also have this thing where i think all old white people are racist. i can't help it. why would i not?? this is the same age group who spit on little black children just trying to go to school.

Epsilonicus said...

Jameil, I get like that too. I try and stop my self when I am around older white people. I always get this feeling when I am around them that they are racist. I try not to assume and stereotype but it is hard when they look frightened when they are around me. Only when I volunteer at this elderly house for nun do I not get this feeling.

So...Wise...Sista said...

Girl stop! I don't know how deep that was, but it def feels true. Shop Therapy...buy enough shit and you'll eventually forget that he cheated, or that you made a stupid mistake at work, or that you forgot your mom's bday. lol Once Blacks folks are able to buy stuff, white people start pointing and saying that there can't possibly be racial disparities with all these negroes pushing beemers! And we believe it, and run right back to Macy's, shopping away the shame of being considered beneath anyone...etc, etc. Obviously I'm generalizing, but I'm just tired of materialism, period. It breeds apathy.

heartbreaker said...

Jameil-

I am FEELIN this post. You have so much knowledge and you are so on-point with your remarks (especially what you said about BET, that's unfortunately so true...) I think that the evolution of our modern society within the transition from our parents' generation to our children's has a HUGE barrier of miscommunication/noise pollution/interference within it. I think that's mostly because of our ignorance, but I think our ignorance comes from the lack of education by many of our parents. To me, that's part of what it takes to keep our history, rich as it is, alive. My parents did what they could in teaching me (like watching Roots every year as a child, which did help) but a lot of what I've received from my parents was disdain for white people. My mother is biracial like your grandfather, red hair and green eyes, and everything... and she has the same attitude towards white people as your grandmother... She always said that she "was never dark enough for black people and never light enough for white people" so she went and married a dark black man (and the end result=me -lol-) so that her children wouldn't have to experience hatred from both sides like she did (yet my brother came out her complextion, go figure... so I guess 1 out of 3 ain't bad) ;) but I can understand what you've heard from your fam as well cuz I can relate to it from my mom's side of the family...

I was 19 years old before the first time I ever heard the word "honky" (by some old white woman who told me she knew someone had called her that) lol and my moms never, EVER let us say the word "nigger" without us getting popped in the mouth...

I disagree with Oprah, however. We don't need to erradicate the word. We need to learn from it, and grow from it, meaning apart from it. Some say that we've internalyzed it and stripped it of its meaning & power and made it our own, but I disagree. Like when Ludacris was on her show saying that there's a difference between "nigger" and "nigga" and Oprah's like "No." That's how I feel. I have the same feelings about it because of my mother, but I think the only difference between the "er" and the "uh" is southern dialect. Southern black people do NOT pronounce the "errrr" on nuFFIn -lol- so that's just a weak excuse to use the word just cuz u want... but lemme quit cuz i know i just created a post myself... but just wanted to let ya know I FEEL YA, can't u tell?? lata

D. Sands said...

Great post.

I wonder how all of this history has somehow figured into this paranoia about white folks; how, in some manner, that we as Black folks are determined to not racially embarrass ourselves, because in some way we do carry the banner of our Blackness. It's a shame that we pass all of these judgements upon ourselves, when we should be appreciating the fact that as a people we are diverse, and we come from a great many backgrounds.

Also, I think we're wrong to automatically assume or to think that white folks are racist, to which we adopt the tip-toe effect, so as to not strike the wrong chord. They are, however [lol], EXTREMELY inclined to racism and racist behavior because they don't understand us. We're inclined to the same behavior.

Charles X said...

i agree with your mom

jameil1922 said...

uh uh sands. lololol. you will never contradict yourself in the same comment. lololol. hilarious. they are inclined to that behavior! i'm convinced. somebody gotta unconvince me. if you're old and white and your parents, grandparents and on back were all racist, what the hell does that make you? the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. if you're "not racist" now, you've probably still at least THOUGHT the word nigger in the last year. and probably muttered it under your breath when you thought no one was listening. kinda like this, "nigger." i bet i can guarantee that.

and... i think going to an HBCU made me waaaay more racist. matter of fact i know it did. but also just growing up in the suburbs and having my friends gradually want to spend less time with me and no longer being available. i had to make black friends in middle school or else i would've been alone. those women are still my friends today.

ok wise one. i'll give you that. perhaps i was drunk when i read that. let me think....no, not drunk. but i'll post on what i got out of that later. more than you meant, i think. lolol. i always felt like that in english lit classes. like damn i really don't think the author meant for us to think this hard. sometimes apple just means apple!!

when i used to go to my friend's creative writing class and share my work (i know its crazy. i used to be in love with this guy named dave in the class), people would say all this shit, and i'd be like, yeah i really wasn't even thinking all that when i wrote it. people think too much. lololol. but you did inspire another post. you're like 2 for 3 out this piece.

heartbreaker... my mom is also "yellow" ooh she hates it when i call her that or "red bone" lolol. but it cracks me up!! mostly b/c of her reaction. but yeah she hated how people always acted like she was better or thought she was better b/c she was light skinned w/"good hair" so she married my brown skinned (dark by southern standards) daddy.

she was IN LOVE w/my skin and according to d wouldn't shut up about it for mad long like weeks after my birth. which is hilarious and i feel like i should've heard that more growing up. growing up in the south can make you real self-conscious about your skin.

also... i saw that oprah episode, too. at least that part. the er/ah argument is the most vapid out there. there's a blogger w/this news story about this white teacher who called his black student a nigger. (i think its spchrist) i'm like wtf??? do you give a shit if a white person calls you a nigga or a nigger? helllllll no. thems fightin words!! regardless!

Rell said...

jameil,

have you seen that clip of the teacher calling the student that?

It's actually hillarious... lol.

jameil1922 said...

are you talking about the teacher who went on the 6 O'CLOCK NEWS talking about calling a student nigga? not necessarily funny. i didn't think so anyway. i thought he was incredibly stupid, tho.

Anonymous said...

I'm just person in this world trying to feed and clothe 4 kids and a wife. I happen, by nature, to be white. I ran across this blog while trying to find the History Channel special on Mississippi. My grandfather was involved in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi and Louisiana. He helped Horace Germany found Bay Ridge Christian College in Texas. The truth was, that it was much worse than depicted. They were beaten, burned, and run over with trucks. My grandfather was a small farmer and he wanted the men (both black and white) to have a piece of land to call their own. (continued)

Anonymous said...

So he deeded them land that he had owned and helped them build homes. The KKK found out and targeted him for the next 25 years. He was also placed on FBI leader Hoover's list of persons to "keep tabs on.". When he helped build Bay Ridge, the national KKK sent hit squads after him. My grandmother and her brothers stayed armed with shotguns to help change their plans. I myself grew up being taught we were no better or worse than anyone. I grew up with 5 black friends, all half-brothers, whose mom was a prostitute (not judging; just the way she fed her kids). (continued)

Anonymous said...

I didn't think they were any different from me...they were (and one still is) some of my closest friends. We are all spread out now. Some of them did well in the world ( one is a professor at a prestigious university, having worked odd jobs to put himself through school), some didn't, but I still love all of them as my brothers. As far as the "bigger" thing, the first time I heard it was when I was 5 or 6 from these guys. When I repeated it, I got the second worse whipping of my life. I can't see any reason why it needs to be in my vocabulary at all. All white people aren't bad, just as all black people aren't good. (continued)

Anonymous said...

The things my grandfather Rev. Germany did wasn't done to make them popular or to make them heroes to black folks of the day, it was done simply because God led them. Unfortunately, we've all got a ways to go. My four-year-old asked one of her friends if he was made of chocolate. He replied, just as innocently, "No. Are you made of vanilla?"

Jameil said...

We do all still have a ways to go. I've since evolved in my thinking after years of living and researching and filmmaking. I never thought all whites were bad any more than I thought all blacks were good. There are no absolutes in anything. I grew up in a predominately white neighborhood and experienced the good and the bad. There are definitely unsung heroes and people who were just trying to live their lives doing what they believed was right, regardless of their race and sometimes in spite of the consequences. It's pretty awesome. And I'm grateful to them all for what they did. I'm glad you have a man like Rev. Germany in your ancestry. I wish there were more pastors and people period who were led by the word of God rather than the racist rule of the day.